By Sarah Watson
In a recent article by Vanity Fair, Microsoft’s recent failures were linked to a destructive management technique called stack ranking.
Stack ranking is a performance measurement system that, in Vanity Fair’s words, “forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor.” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the inevitable problems that can result from this type of management technique. Imagine you have ten exceptional employees on a team. No matter what, one of them will receive an exceptional ranking, three will receive good rankings, five will receive average rankings and one will receive a poor ranking. This results in team members competing with each other rather than working together for the good of the organization.
Author Kurt Eichenwald interviewed employees of Microsoft and found that, “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees.”
In an article for Forbes, Peter Cohan added, “Stack Ranking focused product developers away from getting industry-leading products to market faster than the competition. Instead, it directed them to prevent their peers from getting outstanding performance reviews and brag about their accomplishments to each member of the management committee that determined their relative ranking.”
So, are employee reviews and evaluations the enemy? Certainly not! Evaluating employees, rewarding high performers, and, sometimes, forcing low performers to get better or move out is vital. By encouraging and rewarding high performers and developing low performers, you’ll retain your best people. Without effective evaluations, low performance might be tolerated which could lower the overall productivity level of those around them. When low performance is tolerated, high performers can become frustrated and leave, slack off or become arrogant and hard to manage. As a manager, knowing how to give constructive feedback is one of the most valuable skills you can possess.
In previous blog posts, we’ve reviewed best practices for giving constructive feedback. Here are a few of those tips to utilize when you evaluate your employees:
- If you can’t think of a constructive purpose for giving feedback, don’t give it at all. Good feedback should always have a target and aim for improvement. Assigning someone a “rank” or giving an employee a performance review just because it’s the end of the year isn’t helpful to the employee or organization. If you’re doing your job as a manager and constantly keeping communication flowing, employees should always know where they stand.
- Focus on behavior rather than the person. Refer to an individual’s actions rather than personal characteristics. To focus on behavior, use adverbs, which describe action, rather than adjectives, which describe qualities.
For example: “You talked considerably during the staff meeting, which prevented me from getting to some of the main points,” rather than “You talk too much.” See the difference?
- Offer specific suggestions. Whenever possible make your suggestions helpful by including practical, feasible examples. Offering suggestions shows that you have thought past your evaluations and moved to how to improve the situation. Constructive feedback is centered around development and coaching. Joel Peterson, Chairman of JetBlue Airways, discusses effective feedback and highlights that “you have to care about the person and their development.”
Even if people are working at or above expected standards, they can always benefit from ideas that could help them perform better!
For example: “I sometimes write myself notes or use color-coded post-its to remind myself to do something, you might find it helpful too.” Or “During your next meeting, if you’re not interested in all the details, you might try only asking specific questions about the information you are most interested in.”
- Summarize and express your support. At the end of the conversation, it’s always important to review the major points you discussed. Summarize the action items, not the negative points of the other person’s behavior. For corrective feedback, stress the main things you’ve discussed that the person could do differently to develop their skills. It’s important to always end on a positive note by expressing confidence in the person’s ability to improve the situation.
For example: “As I said, the way the group has figured out how to cover phone calls has really lessened the number of phone messages to be returned. You’ve really followed through on a tough problem. Please keep taking the initiate on problems like that.”
When used correctly, employee evaluations and performance reviews are invaluable tools for the development of employees. Remember, performance reviews don’t have to be destructive and dreaded. Keep the flow of communication open and constant, and avoid making the same mistake as Microsoft.
How do you use employee evaluations? Do you find them helpful?